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UNC vs. UNLV: Three Things to Watch

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Keep an eye on these factors during the Maui/Asheville Invitational.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The sights and sounds of the Dean E. Smith Center were very different Wednesday night. The atmosphere may have felt like a glorified scrimmage, but the North Carolina Tar Heels faced a very real opponent in College of Charleston.

Combine the unusual offseason with six scholarship freshmen that will all contribute at varying levels, Tar Heel fans tuned in to the first game of the season with curiosity and hope.

Curious about how these freshmen will play with some seasoned players, and hopeful this recipe will return Carolina to the top of the ACC standings.

There was both good and bad in the first game of the season, and it was even more of a test for a young team that lined up against a squad that started four seniors and a junior.

An even tougher test begins this week in Asheville for the Maui Invitational (proper background information will need to be provided for the confused people 10 years from now).

Based on the small sample, the three things to watch against UNLV may reflect some of the broader trends or factors for this season. However, these keys will certainly be important for success during this year’s early-season tournament.

The Big Man Rotation

Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot were the expected starters at the 4 and 5. Brooks, along with Leaky Black, led the team with 28 minutes Wednesday night. Despite Brooks going ice cold from the field in the second half, his minutes on the floor are not dictated by offensive performance alone. Expect him to carry the load of minutes this season.

Both Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe, in competition for the center position, had productive nights.

In 22 minutes, Bacot finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. He was 4-5 from the field and 4-6 from the free throw line.

Sharpe also had 22 minutes of game time, and finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He was 4-8 from the floor and 5-6 from the line.

Sharpe joined exclusive UNC company with his first game double-double. Sharpe, along with Cole Anthony, Sam Perkins, and Lennie Rosenbluth, are the only Tar Heels to register a double-double in their collegiate debut. Not bad company.

If you thought Sharpe and his impressive debut was the only one complicating the interior rotation, then you are mistaken.

Walker Kessler, the 7-1 freshman, made the most of his five minutes on the floor. He went 3-4 from the floor for six points, and pulled down four rebounds.

Both Kessler and Puff Johnson had limited action because of COVID protocols. As he gets to regular status, it will be interesting to see how Kessler finds his way into the mix.

And do not forget about Sterling Manley if he can return this season.

Freshman Growth on Both Ends of the Court

After the first game, it is confirmed that Caleb Love and RJ Davis will have significant roles on this team.

Love logged 26 minutes, while Davis was on the floor for 27 minutes Wednesday. Each finished in double figures, with Love leading all scorers with 17 points.

There was a lot to like from these freshmen and the other youngsters.

Although they overplayed some, Love and Davis had some good defensive intensity. This was epitomized when Love hit the deck for a stolen ball, then passed it to Davis who ran it down for a transition layup with an assist from another freshman Kerwin Walton.

Johnson, like Kessler, made the most of his opportunity on the floor. Johnson has a pure shot like his older brother Cam, and he drilled his only shot of the game.

But, as with any young team, there is a lot more progress to be made.

During Charleston’s impressive first five minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels were struggling in transition, were lost on rotations, and forgot about crashing the boards.

There were some “here we go, agains” amongst the faithful, echoing the deadly combination of defensive lapses and offensive impotence from last season.

The freshmen had some struggles with shot selection. Sometimes they were contested, and some were put up too quickly. It was plain to see that some of these talented freshmen fell into their old high school habits when they could singlehandedly carry a team by settling for any shot on the floor against any defender.

You cannot do that at this level. It is a humbling lesson in their first collegiate game, but one that if they learn sooner rather than later, the more team success they will share this season.

The Roles of Black and Platek

Black and Andrew Platek, a junior and a senior, are veterans with playing experience on a team with young talent. Without a doubt their defensive abilities will be needed when the Tar Heels face a shooter on a roll, need a stop to slow down the opponent’s momentum, or when the freshmen are just not getting it done.

However, the offensive performance, and most notably the shot selection, from both Black and Platek Wednesday night was disappointing.

Sometimes it looked like the reckless abandon of a guy trying to break a slump, and other times it was with the naïvety of a freshman that is cocked, locked, and ready to rock when the ball hits his palms.

Black ended the night 2-8 from the floor and no foul shot attempts. Platek was 2-9 from the floor, including 1-5 from three.

With the inevitable learning curve the freshmen will have this season, mistakes from the veterans must be limited. Black and Platek must do a better job with shot selection, plain and simple.

Perhaps they perceive more pressure to score due to the freshmen that will earn significant minutes. Maybe it was just the first game of the season, and there is more in store.

Last season with the struggles scoring, there was certainly more pressure for Black and Platek to score. As the freshmen, especially Love and Davis, learn the Roy Williams system and (hopefully) find scoring success, will Black and Platek be relieved of the burden to be offensive playmakers?

Do not expect this question to be answered against UNLV, or any time before January. And for the overall success of this team, key offensive contributions from these two will be necessary in addition to their excellent defense.